When a new leader is appointed in an organization change is inevitable. The incoming boss will set policy, establish tone, and reflect an attitude in their organization. The same is true for our marriages. The new leader I am referring to here is not a new husband but rather the true husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know from the Scriptures that a Christian marriage is never simply a union of two people but two people united together in Jesus Christ. This is another way of saying that Jesus is our head, the Lord and the life-giver of our marriage. When a man and a woman embrace the truth of the gospel, whether in conversion or sanctification, there are always corresponding changes associated with Jesus being the head of the marriage. Below are three of the more common changes that Christ works into a marriage as He rules it through the gospel.
1. From Selfishness to Service
Every single sin flows from the reservoir of self. We displace God and others in favor of ourselves. It is disastrous and painful. Nowhere is this inversion more glaring and hurtful than in marriage. But when the gospel comes home there are pronounced changes on this front. The irritable wife becomes patient and kind with her husband because Jesus was patient and kind with her. The self-absorbed husband finds more joy in learning about his wife's interests than the side-story of his favorite athletes. This is because he realizes that she was made by God and for God as well as the truth that the Spirit continues to powerfully work more of Christ into her life. This is attractive and compelling in a way that home-runs and touchdowns can't ever be. The gospel comes home and turns our hearts away from ourselves (selfishness) and towards our spouse (service).
2. From Laziness to Engagement
If you don't think laziness is a problem in America, consider the fact that we have a chair, the "Laz-e-boy," tailored to and marketed to the American male. And it sells! Laziness, much like selfishness, is bent toward the self, but it gets its marching orders from the comfort committee. We desire comfort and refuse to do anything difficult because it could be uncomfortable. Laziness is chiefly about preserving and promoting the perception of personal comfort. And laziness lies, a lot. We know there is a problem in our marriage but also know that it requires a change, perhaps even a painful change. So what happens? Laziness says, "Oh, I'll get to this another time." Or laziness says convincingly, "It's not that bad. I'll be all right." But this is laziness talking not Jesus the Governor of our lives. Doubtless you can imagine how this would undermine Jesus' plan for growth and change in you and your marriage. But when the gospel of grace comes home we become engaged in our marriage. We are no longer passive spectators hoping to maintain a culture of comfort and security through sanitized mediocrity. Instead, we become about what Jesus is about: pursuing Christ likeness by means of painfully putting sin to death.
3. Self-Righteousness to Humility
Self-righteousness is that devilish mindset that we possess merit in ourselves that commends us before God and men. While selfishness loves to retreat to self, self-righteousness loves to boast in self. At its heart this opposes the gospel which pivots on our need for and our reception of Christ's imputed righteousness. Self-righteousness in a marriage is as subtle as a raised eyebrow while humility is as noticeable as joyful affection. During a dispute a wife may bring some concerns to her husband. If he is self-righteous he may begin to refute her with "hard" evidence. If things get sticky his fearless inner defense attorney will powerfully articulate his innocence while also bringing charges against his wife. Self-righteousness in marriage is always defending because we perceive that we are always under attack. This is to be contrasted with the gospel which teaches us that we have already been sufficiently attacked, critiqued, and judged. The cross is the verdict. We are guilty. But the beauty of the gospel is that while we were infinitely sinful we were also unfathomably loved. This brings humility and assurance. When the gospel comes home in a marriage we will more quickly silence our internal attorneys while basking in the truth of the gospel. It is only here that we can in humility grow together into the likeness of Christ.
When the gospel comes home in a marriage there is a definite change in policy, tone, and attitude. The marriage comes to take on the characteristics of its leader. In the case of the gospel, there can be no better leader and no more important change for us and our marriage.
Erik Raymond is pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and he writes regularly at his blog, Ordinary Pastor.